Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Review

I’ve always been a huge sucker for tales of treasure hunting, or anything remotely resembling Indiana Jones. (It’s the reason I wanted to be an archaeologist until I realized it wasn’t as fun as it Harrison Ford made it look.) It should come as no surprise to anyone, then, that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was one of my most anticipated games coming out this year. After spending the last few days playing it to death, I have to say: it delivered.

The story of the game begins simple enough; you’re Nathan Drake, descendant of Francis Drake himself. For the last several years, you’ve been chasing after Drake’s fortune, following primarily a clue he left on a ring. After using that to uncover Drake’s logbook (and using documentary filmmaker Elena to achieve your goal), you and your partner Sully are off to a forgotten island in the Pacific to find the fabled treasure of El Dorado.

What happens after that gets more complex as you go along, and ultimately results in one of the better twists and shifts I’ve ever seen in a video game. I don’t want to say anything more about the story because I don’t want to ruin the experience for anyone else, but it’s fantastic. Take National Treasure, inject it with a dose of Indiana Jones, and then make it a little better (than National Treasure, of course) and you’ve got Uncharted’s plot.

Along with the story, the characters in Uncharted are awesome. I thought Heavenly Sword was an anomaly, being a game rivaling most films in terms of voice acting and dialog, but Ratchet & Clank and now Uncharted have proven to me that it wasn’t. Whether you hate the PS3 or not, you can’t deny that a lot of the big titles do a great job in the voice acting and dialog department. Nate, Elena and Sully are all very memorable characters, and the banter between them all is the kind of stuff you could picture people saying in real life. Nate’s a smartass, wise cracking hero; Elena is the badass, “I can take care of myself” female lead; and Sully is the perfect compliment to both. Each character has their own personality, and between the cutscenes and moments of dialog and story as you explore the levels, you’ll get more attached to each of them.

Of course, as Kane & Lynch has shown, even having a fantastic story and characters isn’t enough to overcome mediocre gameplay. Thankfully that’s not an issue with Uncharted, because for the most part, it’s very good.

Uncharted plays like a mix of Tomb Raider and Gears of War. Most of the game is split between two tasks: exploring and puzzle solving, and combat. I had much more fun performing the former; jumping from ledge to ledge, exploring ruins, finding treasure and figuring out where to go next was easily my favorite part of the game.

The combat, however, is the game’s weakest point. While it’s very solid, the stop ‘n pop combat just made some moments like a chore rather than something to look forward to. You’ll spend a while jumping around and just marveling at the scenery (which is some of the best looking in any game to date), only to spend the next 10 minutes crouching behind boxes and rocks in order to shoot at the pirate smuggler guys across the room. The combat is never really too difficult (unless you play on the hardest level, in which case it’s downright cruel) but there are certain points in the game where you’ll likely attempt to kill everyone several times, and each time you fail you’re forced to start all over. I came really close to throwing my controller at one of those moments. (And how is it the pirates are always ahead of you and waiting in groups, even if you have to find a hidden door, jump across ten crumbling ledges, and swing on a vine to arrive in that room?)

Thankfully, the aforementioned twist occurring late in the game completely changes things up. Suddenly, you’re forced to abandon everything you used and enter a run ‘n gun type combat. (Until that point it’s so oriented in taking cover, the game even explains you can shoot while running once it happens.) From there it’s a mix of both combat styles, and it’s so much more fun than the Gears-styled fighting. I can only hope the sequel will use more of a hybrid combat like the last few chapters of the game.

One thing that I nor anyone else can rightfully argue against is that Uncharted looks fantastic, and moves fantastic. The animations are very realistic (except for the odd moment when a pistol shot in the chest sends someone flying 10 feet), and it just makes the world that much more believable. Whether it’s people dropping grenades if you shoot them mid-throw, Nathan’s various forms of movement animations depending on the situation, or the absolutely wondrous water physics, no game that I’ve played has yet to reach the level Uncharted is at graphic- and animation-wise. Half the time you won’t even really notice the little things Uncharted does which make the experience of playing it so much better; most of the time it’s deceptive beauty that you won’t process until after the fact.

Despite me finding a majority of the combat boring (and I admit, many will love it — I’m just very impatient at times and really thought it stopped the game cold) there’s no questioning that Uncharted is a fantastic game, and has topped Ratchet & Clank as my favorite on the PS3. The production values are fantastic, the story is great, the characters and dialog are awesome, the gameplay is (for the most part) great, the visuals are the best you’ll see on a console, and you’ll finish it with a satisfied feeling that you truly accomplished something. When you look back at how you began the game and how it ended, you’ll smile at how far things came. The ending does leave enough room for a sequel, but unlike most blockbuster games these days, it does so in a way that you aren’t left going, “Wait, now what? Why did it cut off and end then!”

If you’re a PS3 owner, you need to buy Uncharted. It’s that simple. The mix of adventure and shooting ensures that two large groups of gamers will find something to love in Nathan’s adventure. If you aren’t a PS3 owner, this may be the game to push you over the edge and make you ask for one for Christmas. We’re finally starting to get some great PS3 games, and I for one can’t wait to see what’s next.


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Author: Brendon Lindsey View all posts by

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